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Antoine Winfield Jr. or Baker Mayfield? | Week Four Game Ball

Brianna Dix and Scott Smith make their nominations for who should get the Game Ball after the Bucs dominant win over the Saints in the Superdome on Sunday…Fans will vote to pick the winner


The Tampa Bay Buccaneers came into the Caesars Superdome on Sunday afternoon with a share of first place in the NFC South and left with sole possession of the top spot after throttling the New Orleans Saints, 26-9. Tampa Bay's offense produced 353 yards and three Baker Mayfield touchdowns while the defense limited the Saints to 197 total yards.

The uplifting win came on a day that a banged-up Bucs roster lost its leading receiver, Mike Evans, to a hamstring injury in the first half. Evans caught three passes for 40 yards and drew a key pass-interference flag on his arch nemesis, Marshon Lattimore, before exiting the game and the Bucs were able to continue moving the ball in his absence. On defense, the Bucs were without starting cornerback Jamel Dean and defensive lineman Calijah Kancey against a Saints offense that got star running back Alvin Kamara back from a suspension, but were able to hold Derek Carr and company out of the end zone for 60 minutes.

"We are never out of the fight," said Mayfield afterwards. "I think that we are a team with very strong-minded men; and just [our coaching] staff in general, they are going to put people in position to win and make plays. I just can't say enough about our defense at the same time. Nine points against that offense as well; that's incredible. And, they had Alvin back as well, so kudos to our guys on the defensive side of the ball. We just played well as a unit."

Mayfield also said the Bucs played their best complementary football of the season so far, an in such a game there are bound to be a good number of players who turned in excellent outings in the victorious cause. The job for me and Staff Writer/Reporter Brianna Dix is to contemplate who had the most important of those strong outings. After every Buccaneer victory this season, we are tasked with nominating two players for the honor of receiving our (fictional) Game Ball. Those two are then included in a list of four candidates…and then the final decision is up to you. After you review the cases we make for two of those players, you will find a link at the bottom of the page to place your vote.

Since we can't duplicate votes and getting the first pick could be important, we are going to alternate the order of our choices from week to week. Brianna is back in the pole position this week. So, who should get this week's Game Ball? Here are our suggestions.

View the top photos of Tampa Bay's Week 4 matchup vs. the New Orleans Saints.

Brianna Dix: S Antoine Winfield Jr.

On Sunday afternoon in a high-stakes matchup for first place in the division, Antoine Winfield Jr. spearheaded the defensive effort. He was all over the field, showcasing his relentless pursuit of the football. Winfield played with urgency every snap, igniting the charge against the Saints. Before halftime, he forced and recovered a fumble at the New Orleans' six-yard line. In addition, Winfield accumulated a team-high nine tackles, a sack on a critical third down, two tackles for loss and a pass defensed in the end zone on a deep attempt by Derek Carr to Chris Olave in the third quarter. 

No sequence embodies Winfield's prowess better than a two-play progression in the third quarter. First, he outpaced Alvin Kamara to the sideline and dropped him behind the line of scrimmage for a loss of six yards, bringing up second-and-long. Two plays later, Winfield was in the end zone breaking up a pass, which forced a Saints' punt. Winfield became the first player since Justin Houston in 2018 to record multiple games with five-or-more tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in a single season – and it is only Week Four of the 2023 slate. He played like his hair was on fire against the Saints, bolstering the unit inside the Superdome. His name reverberated over the loudspeaker for splash plays so often that keeping track became futile.

Winfield reverted back to his original role at free safety in 2023 but the Bucs' coaching staff has continued to utilize his full toolkit, utilizing his physicality in the box to blitz and stuff the run, along with putting him in the post to maximize his awareness and range. He played one of the best games of his career and Winfield is well-deserving of the game ball. Scott, who do you select?

Scott Smith: QB Baker Mayfield

I'm a bit jealous because I think Winfield might be my favorite player on the team at this point (in the non-Lavonte Division, obviously), and his all-around effort on Sunday is the kind of performance that has led me to predict for two years running that he will earn first team Associated Press All-Pro honors. If he keeps playing like this, he may just prove me right.

In this case, though, I'm quite happy to go with the man who directed a 26-point outing against a defense that held 11 straight opponents to 20 points or less. That, of course, is quarterback Baker Mayfield, who had his best game yet in his first year as the Bucs' starter. Mayfield completed 25 of 32 passes for 246 yards, three touchdowns and one interception, finishing with an excellent passer rating of 116.9. He threw scoring passes to three players aged 24 or younger: Cade Otton, Trey Palmer and Deven Thompkins, which was the reason the Buccaneers were three-for-three in scoring touchdowns in goal-to-go situations. That's huge. Turn a couple of those touchdowns into field goals and this game would have been a lot tighter at the end.

Two of those three touchdown passes came on third down and both of them were made under duress. That was indicative of the type of third-down performances Mayfield has been putting on display all season. He came into the game as the NFL's leader in passer rating and completion percentage on third downs and only got better, hitting on six of seven throws for 80 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. A good bit of that had to do with his underrated mobility in the pocket and on the run. Mayfield not only avoided all but one sack but also ran for 34 important yards on five scrambles (he's credited with eight carries for 31 yards in the game but three of those were kneel-downs that lost a yard each at the end of the game.)

After the game, Head Coach Todd Bowles referred to Mayfield as "tough" repeatedly and said he is someone his teammates love to play for. His first month as a Buccaneer has been extremely encouraging, and his game on Sunday was his best yet. Give him the ball!

Who deserves the Game Ball for the Bucs' big win in New Orleans?

Click here to cast your vote!

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